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Foot Problems Mistaken for Bunions

The assumption that any discomfort in the big toe signifies a bunion can lead to unnecessary surgeries. Beyond bunions, several foot conditions can mimic their symptoms. Big toe joint arthritis, characterized by bone spurs due to cartilage degeneration, is one example. While this ailment often causes pain and inflammation in the big toe, it typically affects the top of the joint. A ganglion cyst is a fluid-filled sac that can attach to the big toe joint, posing a diagnostic challenge. Gout, marked by intense pain and swelling from uric acid crystal deposits, can masquerade as a bunion due to similar symptoms. Bursitis, a painful inflammation of the bursa between the skin and bone, may also be mistaken as a bunion. For an accurate diagnosis of your big toe pain, it is suggested that you schedule an appointment with a podiatrist. Depending on the outcome of an exam, pain management or other medical interventions may be suggested. 

Toe pain can disrupt your daily activities. If you have any concerns, contact our podiatrist of Dr. Powers Foot and Ankle. Our doctor can provide the care you need to keep you pain-free and on your feet.

What Causes Toe Pain?

Most severe toe pain is caused due to a sports injury, trauma from dropping something heavy on the toe, or bumping into something rigid. Other problems can develop over time for various reasons.

Toe pain can be caused by one or more ailments. The most common include:

  • Trauma
  • Sports injury
  • Wearing shoes that are too tight
  • Arthritis
  • Gout
  • Corns and calluses
  • Hammertoe
  • Bunions
  • Blisters
  • Ingrown toenails
  • Sprains
  • Fractures (broken bones)
  • Dislocations

When to See a Podiatrist

  • Severe pain
  • Persistent pain that lasts more than a week
  • Signs of infection
  • Continued swelling
  • Pain that prevents walking


In many cases the cause of toe pain is obvious, but in others, a podiatrist may want to use more advanced methods to determine the problem. These can range from simple visual inspections and sensation tests to X-rays and MRI scans. Prior medical history, family medical history, and any recent physical traumatic events will all be taken into consideration for a proper diagnosis.


Treatments for toe pain and injuries vary and may include shoe inserts, padding, taping, medicines, injections, and in some cases, surgery. If you believe that you have broken a toe, please see a podiatrist as soon as possible.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact one of our offices located in Bloomington, Bedford, and Washington, IN . We offer the newest diagnostic tools and technology to treat your foot and ankle needs.

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